Edmonton police say romance scams growing in lonely new coronavirus reality

A police detective in Edmonton says enforcement agencies around the world are seeing a spike in romance scams as fraudsters prey on people’s loneliness.

“They’re using the coronavirus as a means for empathy, caring,” Det. Linda Herczeg said.

The economic crimes detective says scammers will incorporate COVID-19 into their lies and say things like: “‘My family has it and I need money for healthcare, can you please send it?’ ‘No honey, I can’t come see you because I’m in isolation.’”

In 2019, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre noted $19 millions dollars were stolen from Canadians through romance scams alone. Herczeg said the virus is only making that worse.

“Especially with the whole self-isolation — people are alone and they’re by themselves and a lot of them are going onto the internet to find company or someone to chat with,” she explained.

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Edmonton is a prime example. In 2017, 11 locals were scammed out of $396,698. In 2019, those numbers jumped significantly, to 62 victims and $3,201,280.

2020 is trending even higher.

Since January, 21 Edmontonians have been lured in and conned by romance scams, costing them $1.7 million dollars.

Herczeg said the predators see the isolation aspect of coronavirus as an opportunity.

“When you have someone taking the time to be part of your life and sharing conversations with you via Skype, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Facebook’s another big one.

“They’re taking to you, you feel like you’re a part of something and somebody cares.”

She said victims often respond the same way once they realize they’ve been lied to.

“The first thing that they do is erase any trace of evidence that they have to show that they were victimized or scammed,” she said.

“We need you to keep that information and we need you to keep that data. Super, super important. If we don’t have the information, it really makes it difficult for us to do the investigation.”

She said it’s important for people to report the fraud, even though it may be uncomfortable.

“We understand and we sympathize with the victimization. We know that you’re embarrassed and we know that there’s that fear of reporting. We know there’s that fear of your family finding out for victim shaming or victim blaming.”

By speaking out victims can help authorities build cases against perpetrators and prevent them from scamming other people.

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